CAIRO: News of the loss of communications guru Mohamed Nosseir last week took Egyptian business circles by storm, ending the life of a respected icon, whose memory will endure beyond a career replete with milestones.
Following a four-month battle with a sudden illness with which he was diagnosed in January, the chairman of the Egyptian-British Business Association, died in Germany on May 22 at the age of 72.
In 1967, the 29-year-old young communications engineer Nosseir, was asked by veteran journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, then editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram newspaper, to join Al-Ahram’s staff as managing director of the recently-established Al-Ahram Management and Computer center (AMAC) which was a “unique project in the late 60s.
Establishing a “computer and management center at a time when the very word “computer had not yet entered the Arabic lexicon, was enterprising, to say the least.
Within three years the center became the most prominent management and computer facility in the Middle East, thanks to its young energetic, dynamic and enthusiastic manager, Nosseir.
Nosseir was born in Cairo in 1937, where he completed his high-school education in Al-Nokrashi School in Cairo. He then joined the faculty of engineering at Cairo University, majoring in communications. He graduated in 1960 and worked for IBM Egypt before joining AMAC.
Leading a team of 20 young engineers at AMAC, Nosseir introduced the leadership concept in management. “Each engineer led a project from A to Z, so when the project was accomplished, Nosseir knew who to reward, or punish, recalls Ali Ghoniem, AMAC’s general manager from 1972 -2006.
In 1965, before working together in Al-Ahram, Nosseir and Ghoniem were the first Egyptian engineers to put together a computer for commercial use in Egypt, when they installed the first ever computer at the Social Insurance Authority. Nosseir installed the hardware, while Ghoniem took care of the software.
Nosseir set several goals for AMAC, according to Ghoniem: Training a new generation of local engineers to prepare Egypt to enter the computer era, to computerize the management process and to provide commercial applications for Egyptian companies.
“I remember when he used to stand in front of his office to watch who comes in on time and who is late. He was very organized and wanted the place to be a model of success, said Ghoniem.
Even before leadership concepts became widespread in Western management literature, Nosseir set a leadership model, said Ghoniem. “He was a leader, who knew how to reward and when to punish his team.
He was so intelligent, recalls Ghoniem, not only in business but also in his social relations, whether it was with the big fish or ordinary people.
His dreams exceeded Al-Ahram, which was considered among the most prominent publishing houses in Egypt and the Arab world and because to him the sky was the limit, he left Al-Ahram in 1972. Two years later, Nosseir founded ALKAN, his own computer and communications business.
Over the following 30 years, ALKAN grew to become a holding group that operates at least 13 subsidiaries ranging from pharmaceuticals (in partnership with Eli Lilly), through networking, telecoms, textiles and digital mapping projects. It operates in 11 countries
A difficult journey
Nosseir’s career, however, was not without its fair share of battles, some of which he lost bitterly.
His bid for the first cell phone operator license in Egypt was lost to Naguib Sawiris’ Mobinil back in the late 1990s. But he didn’t give up, winning the second license bid to establish the second cell phone operator, then known as Click, in 1998. Vodafone International eventually raised it’s share percentage in it thus changing its brand name to Vodafone Egypt.
Another peak for Nosseir was his last battle for “The Citadel Towers Project , a 260,000 square meter upscale housing and commercial complex in the vicinity of the Cairo landmark Salah Eddin Citadel.
Nosseir had finally secured the required approvals to start the project in 2000 and construction began, but matters took a turn for the worse when the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) had the project suspended on the basis that it would harm the foundations of the surrounding antiquities.
After a long battle with the SCA, which involved the UNESCO, the project was given the final approval on May 13, just nine days before Nosseir passed away. The trusted UN organization gave its nod to a new design for the project, which was environmentally compliant with the specificity of the location and the monuments surrounding it.
Nosseir the father
Nosseir is survived by his wife, his son, Khalid Nosseir, appointed CEO of ALKAN, and daughter Alia.
When Khalid was a child, Nosseir told the weekly Al-Youm Al-Sabea in his last interview in October 2008, he wouldn’t give him pocket money unless he washed the car and polished his shoes. “I wanted to teach him the value of work; nobody works hard and is still poor, Nosseir was quoted as saying.
As is the case with all successful businessmen, however, people were divided on Nosseir, who left behind an astronomically profitable empire that employs more that 5,000 Egyptians.
While some saw him as the ideal good Egyptian businessman, others, like John Sfakianakis in his book “The Whales of the Nile: Networks, Businessmen, and Bureaucrats During the Era of Privatization in Egypt, saw in him little more than a shrewd business shark.
According to Sfakianakis, Nosseir used his “relations with the then minister of the public business sector, Atef Ebeid, . to make the purchase of Coca-Cola company in 1993 with little competition. Nosseir would go on to sell the company after two years at more than triple the acquisition price.
Yet no matter what people thought of him, Mohamed Nosseir will surely be remembered as “the deal hunter , who worked long and hard to build an empire and who contributed significantly to the development of the communications sector of his motherland.